Choose Your Words between Similar Words : mean vs. median vs. average. Caught between words? Make the right choice.

## Choose between: mean vs. median vs. average

Wordsmiths sometimes dislike numbers, or at least have a hard time grasping them. These words offer us an opportunity to better understand numbers and use their terms more precisely in writing and speaking.

Let’s say we have a set of numbers:

- 11
- 23
- 30
- 47
- 56

The *mean,* sometimes called the *arithmetic mean,* of this set is 33. The mean is the sum of all the numbers in the set (167) divided by the amount of numbers in the set (5).

The *median* is the middle point of a number set, in which half the numbers are above the median and half are below. In our set above, the median is 30. But what if your number set has an even number of, er, numbers:

- 11
- 23
- 30
- 47
- 52
- 56

To calculate the median here, add the two middle numbers (30 + 47) and divide by 2. The median for our new list is 38.5.

So far, so good. But what about *average*? The average of a set of numbers is the same as its mean; they’re synonyms.

Let’s see our terms in action:

Performance is calculated by the arithmetic mean of the returns in an equally weighted portfolio of individual stocks, on a quarterly basis.

The median single-family homeowner in town will pay $175 more in property taxes this year.

Average retail gas prices in California fell 1.3 cents in the last week, putting the average tank of gas at $3.13 per gallon.

While we wordy types may still struggle to understand what an “equally weighted portfolio” is, wonder whether we are median single-family homeowners, or continue to look for lower-than-average gas prices, at least we know how the *mean,* *median,* and *average* were calculated.

### average

If something is *average*, it’s ordinary and not very special. You might say a movie was *average* if you thought it was just okay. Continue reading…

### mean

If you got a fortune cookie with the message “Your future will contain many bananas,” you might ask, “What on earth does that *mean*?” In other words, you wonder what the intention or meaning of the fortune might be. Continue reading…

### median

*Median* means middle. When a strip of grass divides one direction of a highway from another, it’s called a *median* because it runs through the middle. Continue reading…